Lecturers across Scotland have taken, this week, their fifth and sixth strike day in the ongoing pay dispute. Picket lines grew across the country as EIS Further Education Lecturers' Association members reacted angrily to the increasingly bizarre claims coming from Colleges Scotland – the latest being that lecturers want a four-day working week and “don’t know why they are on strike”.
We are clear why we are on strike – we are on strike because we have not had a cost of living pay rise since 2016, and we have one clear demand to settle this dispute – a fair cost of living pay rise for all lecturers, in line with Scottish government public sector pay policy. That’s it. No four-day working week, no Caribbean island, no unicorns.
Action short of strike action
The current two-day strike action is part of escalating industrial action which includes a resulting boycott and "withdrawal of goodwill", with lecturers refusing to carry out voluntary, non-contractual duties.
This action short of a strike (ASOS) started on 15 April and has had a dramatic impact – with lecturers refusing to work through their lunchbreak, answering emails only during paid working hours and not taking marking home at weekends, teetering piles of unmarked scripts are stacking up in staffrooms around the country – proof, if we ever needed it, that the vast majority of lecturers work significantly more than a 35-hour working week, particularly in these critical weeks of the last teaching block.
If management does not return to the negotiating table with an improved offer, the next few weeks will see a crisis in the sector as the resulting boycott bites. Lecturers are refusing to enter results into the college resulting systems – without this, results cannot be sent to Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and students’ certificates cannot be processed.
'We choose to teach in colleges'
We are not participating in industrial action because we want to hurt our students. We choose to teach in colleges – in many cases for significantly lower salaries than could be earned in industry – because we care passionately about our students and about the role of colleges in widening access to education, delivering vocational education and giving a ‘second chance’ to learners from all walks of life. Unfortunately, any form of industrial action we take inevitably impacts upon our learners – but we have done everything we can to avert this action.
The same cannot be said for Colleges Scotland, which has demonstrated utter disregard for their students and staff alike from the start of this dispute. The offer made last week brings in terms and conditions – an entirely separate workstream – attempting to rewrite the meaning of the National Working Practices Agreement before the ink was even dry on the page and trying to force lecturers to trade terms and conditions for a paltry cost of living rise.
Lecturers are highly qualified, committed professionals, and we are at the end of our tether with Colleges Scotland. The Scottish government continually reminds us of the importance of the college sector to the economy and wider society. National bargaining for the further education sector was an SNP manifesto commitment – the Fair Work Convention and public sector pay policy are government policies. It’s high time that the government stepped in, not just to resolve the current pay dispute, but to hold to account an employers’ association who are playing roulette with our students’ futures.
Pam Currie is president of the EIS Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS-FELA)